Unexpected pen pals from Naoetsu
In March this year, a teacher at my former junior high school in Japan, Naoetsu JHS, got the pupils to write to me as their final assignment for the year (the school term ends in March in Japan). The current ALT got in touch to ask for my postal address, so coming home to the little package wasn’t unexpected. But the fact that 49 of my kids wrote to me was a big surprise.
Yesterday I finally finished my last reply and packaged it all up. I sent it off to Japan to today. It took me a long time to reply for a few reasons: at first I was feeling a little too Japansick to read them all; then I struggled to find the best way to reply – at first I thought of making my own postcards, but five months on, I’m glad I went for another option; finally: writing out almost 50 postcards takes a damn long time!
I chose Jane Austen postcards because even though the quotes will be difficult – if not impossible – for year sevens, eights and nines to understand, they were charming designs and Jane Austen remains one of the finest authors. The first time I read Pride & Prejudice I laughed out loud on the first page. Having hated Jane Eyre I had no idea that literature could be that funny. Not just witty: funny.
The kids wrote about all sorts of lovely things and I felt so proud of them for their effort. They told me about their hobbies (swimming, trombone, track and field), their holidays (Tokyo, skiing, Toyama, Nagaoka), working hard at school and the recent graduation ceremony. A few of them even drew some cute cartoons. I also came away with a few new music recommendations (KAT-TUN, Jannies, Sandaime J Soul Brothers, 2NET). One of my favourite questions they asked was “what do you do your best at?” – that one made me smile.
I think one of the things the JET Programme struggles with the most is the lack of continuity. ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) change on a regular basis, which is very good for intercultural understanding and exposing students to people from all sorts of backgrounds (and fits in with the Japanese system of transferring teachers to a new school every 3-7 years). But changing regularly means that it’s tough for ALTs to affect change, to feel a sense of autonomy and to keep up links with their schools further down the road.
I’m grateful to the teacher at Naoetsu JHS who encouraged the children to write these letters and I hope that getting a reply from me (five months on!) will show them that it’s worth the effort. I loved teaching them and I would really like all of them to seize the opportunity to travel when they’re older. If I’m lucky they’ll come to the UK, but really I’d be happy for them to go anywhere in the world to have an adventure.
So, thank you Naoetsu JHS, for reminding me of some of the wonderful people I met in Joetsu.